The food we eat, exercise we take and lifestyle decisions we make can predict our future heart health. If you’re older, or already have a heart condition or some of the risk factors, it’s all the more important to care for your heart. These are the foods you should be eating to reduce your risk of heart disease…
Fruit and veg contribute to heart health: studies show people who have at least five portions a day have a lower heart disease risk. ‘It may be that they also tend to be non-smokers, a healthy weight and more active – but it’s still a good reason to get your fill,’ says registered dietitian Tracy Kelly.
Meanwhile, soluble fibre, found in oats, barley and pulses, helps lower LDL cholesterol. ‘It’s also good to include soya protein such as tofu, and nuts – snack on a handful once a day,’ Tracy adds.
Fortified dairy foods such as Flora ProActiv and Benecol claim to lower cholesterol – and there’s good research to support this, says Heart UK. It’s thanks to the ingredients known as plant sterols or stanols, which work by preventing the absorption of cholesterol in the gut. For optimal effect you need to have 2–3g daily. ‘They all seem to work slightly differently, so the best way to enjoy them is to include them all, on a regular basis, rather than sticking to one or two,’ she says.
For more cholesterol-lowering diet advice, download Heart UK’s Ultimate Cholesterol Lowering Plan here.
The 6 foods that help
The soluble fibre beta-glucan in oats helps lower cholesterol. Get your fill in a bowl of porridge or fortified cereal such as Betavivo.
See our healthy oat recipes.
2. Fruit and veg
Filling a third of your plate with veg and ditching high-fat puds for fruit and natural yogurt will help keep your saturates intake down.
See our recipes with vegetables as a main ingredient here.
A recent study found that eating 130g chickpeas, beans and lentils a day can cut LDL cholesterol by 5%.
See our recipes using pulses here.
Nuts contain heart-healthy fats (but they’re high in calories so stick to a 30g portion daily).
Find 10 ways to use nuts here.
5. Plant stanols or sterols
Found in products such as Benecol and Flora ProActiv, these help lower cholesterol.
6. Soya products
High in soluble fibre, these also help stop cholesterol being absorbed into your bloodstream.
We know the Mediterranean diet can lower your risk of heart disease and reduce your risk of another incident if you’ve already had a heart attack. The diet ties in with the government’s Eatwell Guide: low in saturated fat and rich in wholegrains. The key message is that the type of fat you eat is important, so replace saturated and trans fats with healthier alternatives.
1. Don’t eat more than 500g (cooked weight) meat a week. Choose lean cuts, removing any visible fat.
2. Replace full-fat dairy with low-fat dairy or unsweetened and fortified plant-based alternatives.
3. Avoid butter, lard, palm oil and coconut oil and limit hard cheese – all of which are saturated. Instead, use small amounts of unsaturated fats such as rapeseed, sunflower or olive oils and spreads.
4. Include wholegrains, oily fish, beans and pulses.
5. Cook from scratch as much as possible and avoid overly processed foods so you can keep tabs on exactly what goes into your meals.
6. Stick to 6g (1tsp) max salt a day. A high intake can increase your risk of high blood pressure. This means not adding salt to meals or cooking, but also checking labels as 75% of our salt intake is already in the foods we buy. Remember, too, that all salt is the same – it doesn’t matter if it’s marketed to look more ‘natural’ or healthy, it’s still sodium chloride.